Secrets of the South: Iwaki City & Surrounds

Iwaki is one of the most unique cities in the Tohoku Region. For starters, it rarely snows in the city, the city has a tropical theme, it even has a giant hot spring resort called Hawaiians! Iwaki is also the southernmost city in Tohoku. Its southern proximity allows residents and visitors direct access to Tokyo, even without using a Shinkansen line. It is a very large city, containing hot springs, beaches, aquariums, and (of course) unique local food. There is something for everyone, whether the weather is hot or cold – lets check it out!

Aquamarine Fukushima

One of Japan’s largest aquariums can be found in Iwaki! ‘Aquamarine Fukushima’ is  located on the coast next to Iwaki Marine Tower and Park (which you should also visit!). The Aquarium contains many types of jelly fish, seals, fishes, otters, and even a monkey(?).

 

The Aquarium is split up into several areas; dark rooms for light sensitive marine life, large tanks for the larger attractions such as the seals, and an outdoor area where you can interact with starfish and other sea creatures! One interesting activity offered by this aquarium is that children can learn how to catch and cook their own fish! Yes, there’s even a kitchen here!

To reach Aquamarine Fukushima, take the Joban Line to Izumi Station. From there it’s about a 10 minute taxi ride (2000 yen) or a 20 min bus ride towards Onahama/Ena (小名浜・江名) .

Abukuma-do Caves

Technically, Abukuma-do is not in Iwaki City, but in neighboring Tamura Town, which is more or less half way between Koriyama and Iwaki. Visitors can enter the cave and view the beautiful limestone interior. However, a word of caution! First pay attention to the time! If you’re taking the Ban’etsu East Line, Kammata Station (sometimes written as Kanmata), please pay attention to the time schedule as the train only offers services five times a day, so plan your schedule accordingly. Secondly, the interior of the cave can get quite wet, so prepare a good jacket and shoes with traction to reduce slippage. Finally there are two courses, a standard course and an advanced course (the advanced course costs slightly more). While the tour guide states that ‘even a child’ can master the advance course, this is probably more to do with the fact that completion requires passage of some very cramped and narrow areas! There are areas where you will be squeezed, or forced to crawl through. If you’re over 174cm or 5’8, you might have a hard time! The standard course, in contrast, is much more friendly for all people as it follows stairs. There are only one or two staff inside the cave, so either course is more or less self-guided.

Abukuma-do Cave:

Hours: Everyday ( 08:30 AM ~ 04:30 PM )

Entry: Adult: 1,200 JPY; Child: 600 JPY

Access: Take the JR Ban’etsu East line to “Kanmata Station” (神俣駅). From the station take a taxi for about 5 minutes (around 1400 JPY). It is only a small station, so you may need to call to reserve a taxi. It is recommended to drive! There is free parking available for 700 cars.

Yumoto Onsen

Love hot springs? Yumoto has a ton of them! Located next to Izumi (where Aquamarine Fukushima is located), Yumoto has a plethora of onsen (hot spring) resorts, from the famed Hawaiians, to many smaller, traditional ones. Even Yumoto Station (on the Joban Line) has a foot onsen on the platform! There are a number of other public foot onsen (which are free) and bath houses (very cheap).  Yumoto’s atmosphere is a unique mix of traditional Japan and Hawaii. You’ll find many Japanese architecture found on the onsen houses and even the train station, but many palm trees, statues with leis, and employees in aloha shirts.  I recommend Sahako-no-yu as far as public bath houses go, as seen in the video. Very cheap and friendly staff. As far as onsen hotels, I also visited Furutakiya (古滝屋). This one had a nice view as it’s located on the hill, and the onsen is on the upper floors. The mens onsen area is two floors, with an indoor one on the bottom and an outdoor on the second floor, however I assume mens and womens onsen rotate depending on day or time.

 

Access: accessible from Yumoto Onsen Station on the JR Joban Line

Local Cuisine

The big three local specialties are: Jangara (じゃんがら), Sanmanopopoyaki (さんまのポーポー焼き), and Shisomaki (長久保のしそ巻き).

Jangara can best be described as a crunchy manju, filled with anko (red bean) paste. I personally prefer Jangara over manju as the crunchy exterior better complements the creamy filling. Next is Sanmanopopoyaki, which are fish sausages sometimes are shaped like a hamburger patty. Finally, we have Shisomaki, which are spicky pickles rolled in Shiso (perilla). Jangara and Shisomaki can be easily found in stores all over Iwaki, even the convenience stores in the station gift shop. Sanmanopopoyaki can be found in some local restaurants, and even in the aquarium!

Additionally we tried two famous items from local restaurants in the city. The first is from an izakaya called Afro. This restaurant is famous for it’s Iwaki Joban Tanko Sekitan-age (いわき常磐炭鉱石炭揚げ) which literally means Iwaki’s Fried Coal. Don’t worry, it’s not really charcoal or coal, but rather, fried fish in squid ink! This is one of the best fish I’ve ever eaten in Japan, and apparently others agree, as the owner won an award for this entry. You can also try other Fukushima specialties such as raw horse sushi!

It is located south of Iwaki Station: Izakaya Afro (アフロ)


Another place famous among locals is Jagaimo Potato House (じゃがいもポテトハウス). They serve all things potato. Fish and chips, mashed potatoes, french fries, among many others! What they are famed for is their spicy potato curry with rice. Upon first glance, it may not seem or look very interesting, and the thought of eating carbs with more carbs may be unappetizing for some. However, we took a shot at it and can say we recommend it! First off, what makes this dish so tasty is the sauce. As an American, I really enjoy a good gravy sauce and I’ve found very few places in Japan that can make a tasty gravy sauce. I can say the gravy sauce here is one of the best, but also unusually spicy. If you can’t handle spicy foods this may not be your thing. Secondly, is the mashed potato itself; it’s not one of those creamy mashed potatoes you may find in the states, but more of a chunky mixture that lends itself well to rice. The portion size is also good and they give you a special large cup of water in order to quench the heat.

Jagaimo Potato House (ジャガイモポテトハウス):


Getting to Iwaki City


 

From Tokyo: For people in the Tokyo area, great news! You can go directly to Iwaki on either the Limited Express Hitachi (2 hours 10 min, 6170 yen) or on the Limited Express Tokiwa (4 hours, 4,670 yen). You will need to make seat reservations, including those who hold JR Rail passes. The Seishun 18 Ticket is not valid on either line. You can board them from Shinagawa, Tokyo, or Ueno Stations.  The great thing about these trains that despite not being officially Shinkansen Trains (Bullet Trains), they certainly feel like it. They’re fast and possess nice and comfortable interiors. You can also take the regular train as the Joban Line spans from Ueno Station to Iwaki, but would require one or two transfers and more time.  Another option is to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Koriyama Station in Fukushima, then transfer to the local train JR Ban’etsu East Line bound for Iwaki (2 hours 40 min, 9620 yen). Deciding which of these two routes largely depends on whether you will explore other parts of Fukushima and Tohoku. If you only want to explore Iwaki, then take either the Hitachi/Tokiwa or Joban Lines as it is much faster, cheaper, and comes more often than the Ban’etsu East Line which comes once an hour if not less. If you want to explore other parts of Fukushima, Koriyama would make a better base due to its central location within Fukushima. See our other guide below in the links section on how to explore Fukushima Prefecture from Koriyama!

From the Tohoku area: For people north of Iwaki, the only viable route is through Koriyama. In the past, the JR Joban Line extended from Sendai to Iwaki, but parts remain under reconstruction and thus cannot be used for the time being. A variety of Shinkansen options exist for those in Sendai, Morioka, and Hakodate (among many others) to arrive at Koriyama.  For those wanting to take the local trains, simply use the Tohoku Main Line and go southwards to Koriyama. However from Koriyama, again you must transfer to the JR Ban’etsu East Line. Please note that there is only service FIVE times per day at 05:30, 08:00, 13:17, 15:11, and 19:42, so please plan accordingly, other wise you may need to go all the way south to Tokyo and go back north.

The JR Ban’etsu East Line is a 2 car train that is usually staffed by one person. It contains a restroom and both side by side and forward facing seating. Most of the customers are locals who will exit at their local station. This means you’re likely to get comfortable seating and see a lot of beautiful mountain nature. However if you want to see the sea side, the Hitachi/Tokiwa and Joban Lines from Tokyo will be better.

Related Guides

Japan’s Samurai Cities, how to explore Fukushima’s cities from Koriyama

Endless Summer in the Snow, a guide dedicated to Iwaki’s Spa Resort Hawaiians!

Reopening of the Joban Line, learn more about the history of the line

Useful Links

Hyperdia: plan all your train scheduling on this site. Very useful if you plan on riding the JR Ban’etsu East Line!

Japanican: the site I use to reserve hotels. While Iwaki is large, I recommend staying near Iwaki Station as there are many options.

Map of Yumoto Onsen, the areas in a black box are public bath houses.

Tohoku Ambassador Club

About Tohoku Ambassador Club

The Tohoku Ambassador Club consists of over 170 international exchange students from 27 different countries, all living and studying in Sendai City. As both local Tohoku residents and international travelers, we have all the insider knowledge and tips for discovering the amazing attractions of the Tohoku region! Follow us as we uncover your next Japan adventure, far from the crowds of Tokyo and Kyoto.

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